Feature: Terminator Salvation
Wed, 20 May 2009 16:10:21
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Where would the world be without The Terminator? Without the catchphrases “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby,” we’d be just empty shells of existence. Without a leather-wearing, Harley-riding Austrian robot, we’d never have the current Governor of California. Our affinity for Guns n’ Roses, Ray-Bans, liquid nitrogen, and Eddie Furlong would never be fully realized without the first hundred million dollar grossing film ever. James Cameron’s Terminator movies aren’t just movies, they are cultural artifacts.
“'[W]e take the source material very seriously,' McG said.”
So when it comes to expanding upon the sacrosanct fan flick franchise, one should tread lightly. Just look to 2003’s forgettable Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines as a warning. (Yes, that is Mr. Schwarzenegger walking a strip club catwalk for pack of cougars.) It takes the most adept of filmmakers to slip into the director’s chair after James Cameron, and for Terminator: Salvation, only one director chose to take up the mantle: McG. Yes, that’s Joseph McGinty Nichol, director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and We Are Marshall. Facing a tidal wave of eye-rolls and serious pshaw-ing, McG set out to prove everyone wrong. “The whole take on this film is credibility and I am doing what I can to make people know that we take the source material very seriously,” McG said.
And to the surprise of many, McG did not fail. From the sandy wasteland that is left of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, to the slow stomp of the Terminator robots, Terminator: Salvation evocatively unveils the world after the bomb.
McG enlisted Dark Knight co-writer Jonathan Nolan to help with the script (Nolan’s name was removed from the script after numerous revisions) and drafted Christian Bale to play John Connor, the leader of the human resistance. But Bale, too, wasn’t sold on the film at first. “The idea of doing another one did not seem smart to me,” Bale said. “It seemed that way with the initial idea of reviving the Batman movies. Then I came to believe that there were some potentially good stories here and that I enjoyed enough to want to see it.”
McG tried to steer the Terminator series into a different direction. He said that he wanted to make a film that took cues from Children of Men and movies from his childhood. To achieve this effect, McG decided to strip the movie down and refrain from using too many computer effects.
Like in Terminator 2, computer effects were used only as embellishments or for situations that were virtually impossible to create live. But by and large, McG says many of the visual elements were good ol’ fashioned special effects. “I think that human beings take a great deal of time looking at physics. We know what’s going to happen when [something] is dropped, and I know we can all smell the CG components in these films and are immediately taken out of the picture. So we wanted to go to great lengths…to get the level of physics right.”
Getting the physics right wasn’t the only challenge in making Salvation work. McG and the screenwriters had to deal with 20+ years of plot holes, alternate endings, the writer’s strike, and the widespread revelation of Bale’s nuclear temper. But The Terminator trudges on. Salvation will probably go on to be a box office titan despite its bleak vision of the hell that reigns after the world's end. But the always cheery Bale sees a silver lining on the mushroom cloud: "Terminator is a lighter movie. It’s not like Apocalypse Now or anything. It’s a good summer movie to watch with a crowd, so I call that light. No matter how gritty and dark you might want to make it, it is essentially a movie to have fun to.”